Juno Bhardwaj Shah, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health.

3 takeaways from our recent webinar on online gambling and mental health

13 August 2020

Last month, we launched our ‘A Safer Bet’ report, exploring the harm that people with mental health problems can experience when gambling online. To mark the publication we held a webinar bringing together a panel of experts, including Anna Hemmings, Chief Executive Officer of the charity GamCare, and Shahriar Coupal, Director of Advertising Policy and Practice at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s advertising regulator. You can watch back the webinar, and find three key takeaways from the event, below:

Mental health problems and online gambling can be a toxic combination

Our Senior Research Officer, Merlyn Holkar, started the event by talking through some of the report’s main findings. The report highlights that one in three people with mental health problems who took part in our surveys found it difficult to stay in control of online gambling. The combination of gambling sites being easily accessible and allowing players to spend large amounts of money in a short amount of time — along with the impulsivity that is a common symptom many mental health problems — can at times be toxic. 

Merlyn also talked about how many people who gamble online don’t feel like they are spending ‘real money’. – This detachment can make it easier for people to spend more than they can afford. These factors all contribute to many people with mental health problems finding it difficult to stay in control when gambling online. To help make things easier, the report recommends that safe stake limits should be introduced across gambling markets, and more responsibility should be placed on gambling companies to support customers who may be struggling – changes that could make a real difference to those of us who struggle with online gambling.

Gambling adverts are everywhere online

85% of people with mental health problems that we surveyed, felt that it was ‘impossible’ to avoid gambling adverts online. Our Research Community member, Rachel, who was interviewed for the event, told us that online advertising makes it harder for her to manage online gambling and that the ‘welcome offers’ often maker her “feel you can’t refuse”. This constant presence of adverts can leave people with mental health problems to feel overwhelmed and make it more difficult to not gamble.

Shahriar Coupal, Director of Advertising Policy and Practice at the ASA, highlighted the organisation’s work in ensuring that gambling companies do not create adverts that encourage problematic gambling behaviours. The regulator also limits gambling adverts to spaces where they will be viewed by predominantly adult audiences.

Shahriar emphasised that the ASA’s outreach and guidance to gambling operators has been effective at ensuring high compliance. He also highlighted that the ASA was looking at whether gambling operators could use customer data to identify people struggling with gambling problems, and to proactively direct gambling ads away from that group  – something that could be really beneficial to those of us who find gambling advertisements difficult to avoid.

Being proactive and offering support

Anna Hemmings, Chief Executive Officer of GamCare, spoke about the need to offer problem gamblers more support. She highlighted that problem gambling is still highly stigmatised and there is a desperate need to encourage more people to talk about it. While GamCare’s 24/7 national helpline saw a drop in calls during the lockdown, in July the charity saw a return to pre-lockdown levels, with many callers having mental health concerns. 

One of the ways that GamCare is encouraging more people to get help with gambling problems is through the use of “warm transfers”- that is, enabling gambling firms to directly refer individuals who are struggling with gambling issues to the charity’s helpline. This provides customers who may be finding it hard to manage their gambling with an immediate source of support – and could be an enormous relief to people who may have not yet found support. Anna stressed that by putting in place effective self-exclusion tools, in addition to offering this kind of proactive support to problem gamblers, more can be done to help those who most need it.